The huge variety of hiking trails around Whistler become wonderful snowshoeing trails in the winter. With the snow, sometimes more than a metre deep, and the trees solid white and weighed down, the trails become like giant white tunnels. Rainbow Falls, Cheakamus River, Train Wreck, Parkhurst Ghost Town, the Sea to Sky Trail Bungee Bridge and the Brandywine Falls trail to the massive Cheakamus River gorge are beautiful snowshoe trails. Here is a detailed list of Whistler's best(and free) snowshoe trails. Keep in mind that if it hasn't snowed significantly in the previous 5 days, you likely will not need snowshoes as the trail will be well packed down. At least for the easier trails shown here.
The Blueberry Trail is a relatively unknown, though amazing trail that ascends up to a marvellous cliff viewpoint, high above Alta Lake. Geographically, the Blueberry Trail is opposite of Rainbow Park and can be accessed by either the neighbourhoods of Whistler Cay (at the end of Crabapple Dr), or at the other end of the trail in Alta Vista (at the end of St Anton Way). Either trailhead is just a five minute drive from Whistler Village. It gets its name from the hill that rises above it named Blueberry Hill. So well hidden that you won't find either trailhead unless you search for them despite being on all the maps in Whistler. The trailheads do have small trail signs and once you are on the trail it is easy to follow, even in deep snow. Though at times steep, the trail is short. The high point of the trail, about midway, is only 1.2k from either trailhead. There is a small clearing at the edge of quite a high cliff that is a great vantage point to the lake. People skating, cross country skiing or walking appear as little black dots scattered across the frozen lake. As snowshoeing trails go, the easy and short Blueberry Trail is a great, fun, short workout to a beautiful vantage point. Dogs are allowed here as well.
Why should you snowshoe/hike the Blueberry Trail?
It is close and convenient to Whistler Village and has some amazing views over Alta Lake. Family friendly (easy) and dog friendly. A wonderful place to share a beer and see the sun set over Alta Lake.
Brandywine Falls, though extremely popular in the summer and fall months, hides behind a massive, snow plow formed, wall of snow from (usually) December to March. The gate to the parking lot is closed and buried. Attempting to hike to the falls on foot is tough as you find yourself thigh deep in snow right from the start. But if you have snowshoes this trail becomes a winter paradise. The snowplows intentionally clear a winter parking area for the park near the (buried) gate. You just have to scramble over the mountain of snow, cross the parking lot and follow the signs. The easy-to-follow trail begins just across the parking lot. You then follow the trail to the bridge over the beautiful Cheakamus River and then turn right and snowshoe less than a kilometre along the wide and easy to follow trail until you reach the impressive and hugely beautiful viewing platform across from this thundering waterfall. Brandywine Falls is amazing to see in the summer, but in the winter it is even more extraordinary. The sounds are echoed louder as the sounds bounce of the frozen chasm the water falls into, yet the area is magically serene with rarely anyone to break the peacefulness of the park.
Why should you snowshoe to Brandywine Falls?
It is very convenient when driving to or from Whistler, impressive and fun to see in the winter. An amazing stop on the Sea to Sky Highway that no one notices in the winter months. Brandywine Falls is a very kid friendly place to snowshoe as its easy and short, yet with lots to see.
The Brandywine Falls to the Whistler Bungee Bridge is a beautiful 6 kilometre, roundtrip snowshoeing adventure that takes you to two amazing Whistler area sights. Brandywine Falls, though extremely popular in the summer and fall months, hides behind a massive, snowplow formed, wall of snow from (usually) December to March. The gate to the parking lot is closed and buried. Attempting to hike to the falls on foot is tough as you find yourself thigh deep in snow right from the start. But if you have snowshoes this trail becomes a winter paradise. The snowplows intentionally clear a winter parking area for the park near the (buried) gate. There are plenty of Sea to Sky Trail signs and even a beautiful mapboard in the parking lot. Just across the bridge at the parking lot you will see the first sign for the Sea to Sky Trail. Turn right here and in five minutes you will see the amazing Brandywine Falls from the viewing platform. From the viewing platform you have to return from where you came and turn right at the Sea to Sky Trail sign indicating the Cheakamus Bungee Bridge in 2.6km. The snowshoeing trail is wide and easy to follow. After a few hundred metres you come to your first viewpoint of the valley and distant mountains. The trail ascends fairly quickly and then opens up to some more views before reaching the amazing Bungee Bridge high above Cheakamus River.
Why should you snowshoe to the Bungee Bridge?
The Cheakamus Bungee Bridge is an amazing recent addition to the massive Whistler snowshoeing and hiking trail network. The trail is wide, scenic and takes you to two amazing viewpoints. The Brandywine Falls viewpoint is near the start of this trail and the Bungee Bridge is 3k from the trailhead making this an enjoyable distance to snowshoe. Most make the roundtrip journey in two hours.
Cheakamus River is located just 8k south of Whistler Village just off of the Sea to Sky Highway. This well marked, though beautifully remote feeling snowshoeing trail takes you along both sides of the wildly crashing Cheakamus River. Snow begins to fall in earnest in the Whistler area in November so the best months for snowshoeing the Cheakamus River are from late November to early April. The best routes is to walk/snowshoe from your car for about 100 metres following the road to Cheakamus Lake. At about 100 metres you will see a branching road go to the right and a large, vehicle bridge cross the Cheakamus River. Cross the bridge and you will immediately see a trail on your left running along the river. This trail, with Cheakamus River on your left will descend and ascend through a beautiful forest. Sometimes close to the river, sometimes 100 metres away. As these trails are popular in the summer for hiking and biking they are well marked with signs. Keep to the signs aiming for the Cheakamus River Suspension Bridge which is 2k from where you parked and should take about an hour to reach. Once you reach the suspension bridge you can cross it and return to your car from the other side of the river. You will see a trail on the other side of the bridge on your left. You can also snowshoe back via the Cheakamus Lake road which is just a hundred metres or so from the bridge (after you cross it from the side you just snowshoed). As long as you keep within the bounds of the Cheakamus Lake Road and the Cheakamus River on your way back to your car you can pick your own route as the trails branch in and out in this confined area as it ascends back to your car and starting point. There are no facilities on the trail however in Cheakamus Crossing just a one minute drive past the trailhead you will see the large Hostel, the HI Whistler which has an amazing coffee shop where you can get a great selection of food and drinks and even a beer or glass of wine.
Why should you snowshoe Cheakamus River?
It is very beautiful, the trail is extremely varied. One minute you are looking down on the chaotically beautiful Cheakamus River from above, the next minute you are snaking through a beautiful forest of massive trees, the next minute you are high above the river in the middle of the impressive suspension bridge looking beneath your feet at the river. The Cheakamus River snowshoeing trail is moderately easy though impressive and fun. The snow gets very deep and untouched in the area so that you can literally jump off the trail into waist deep powder snow. The trail length is perfect for a relaxing snowshoeing outing as it is just two or three hours trailhead to trailhead. Great for kids as they will be constantly jumping off the trail, down into the deep snow.
Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park is an absolutely phenomenal, though long, snowshoeing trail that begins at the Diamond Head area in Squamish. From Whistler Village, the trailhead is just over an hours drive away, located near the south end of the massive Garibaldi Park. The Elfin Lakes Trail is very well marked and maintained and leads to the wonderful, Elfin Lakes Hut. This amazing hut sleeps 33 and is solar powered and propane heated. There is a charge of $15/person to stay the night there which is a small price to pay for the beautiful comfort after the long, 11 kilometre snowshoe hike to get there. This area is very popular with skiers as well as snowshoers in the winter and deep snow covers the trail usually from November to June. The trail to Elfin Lakes starts out ascending through deep forest, reaching the Red Heather Hut after 5k. This is a small warming hut equipped with a wood stove complete with a stack of wood free to use, though sleeping here is for emergencies only. The final 6k from this hut to Elfin Lakes takes you along a beautiful ridge with amazing views of snowy mountains all around. The sheer distance of this snowshoeing trail ranks it as difficult. Expect to take four hours to reach the Elfin Lakes Hut as you are almost constantly ascending a gradual, though consistently uphill trail. There are several jaw-dropping views along this final 6k stretch. This trail is so well marked with orange poles and tree markers that you can reliably find your way after dark or before sunrise with good lights to assist you. You often see, with some shock, skiers trudging up the trail, not far from the trailhead after the sun has set. Making their way to the Elfin Lakes Hut in the dead of night seems to be a pastime of quite a few local skiers and boarders...
Why should you snowshoe to Elfin Lakes?
The views after the 5k mark are constantly beautiful. The trail is well marked and can be navigated under the stars with good lights and skill. The Elfin Lakes Trail is challenging and a great snowshoeing workout at 11k to the hut or 22k roundtrip in a day. The Hut, as huts go is magnificent. Busy on weekends and often deserted weekdays, you may have this house in the mountains to yourselves. It is a fantastic mountain experience complete with a cute, wood-fire heated hut at 5k that is ideal for a leisurely lunch, glass of wine or toasting marshmallows with the kids.
Joffre Lakes is yet another amazing snowshoeing trail near (kind of) to Whistler. About 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Whistler gets you to the Joffre Lakes trailhead. Located up on the Duffy Lake Road north of Pemberton, Joffre Lakes is well known for its incredibly surreal, turquoise water. In the winter of course all three of the Joffre Lakes are frozen over but the trail is popular with skier and snowshoers between the months of November and early June (depending on snowfall). Though the trail is fairly well marked and often snowshoe and ski tracked in the winter it is possible to lose the trail after dark or after or during heavy snowfall. So caution should be taken on this trail. Make sure you don't go snowshoeing to Joffre Lakes immediately after heavy snow. Pick a nice, sunny day and leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with headlights as the winters bring very early sunsets, especially in the mountains. The trail is sometimes steep as you gain 400 metres of altitude in just 5k trailhead to the third Joffre Lake. On snowshoes expect to reach the third lake in about two hours. On a sunny day the frozen lake is beautiful and almost warm feeling. However, as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains the temperature gets bitter cold so be prepared with very warm clothing on any snowshoeing adventure there. You do occasionally see people camp overnight at Joffre Lakes in the winter. The usual campsite area is buried in snow as it lays at the base of the mountains so people usually put their tens directly on the frozen lake. Extraordinary!
Why should you snowshoe to Joffre Lakes?
The trail is challenging though very beautiful. The constantly winding trail takes you past and to the three beautiful lakes that all have spectacular, distant mountain views. The trail is relatively short at 5k one way to the third lake but the first lake is just metres away and makes for a worthy destination if you are just after a quick and easy snowshoe to an amazing mountain lake. The drive to Joffre Lakes is beautiful on its own. From Whistler you pass by Nairn Falls, a convenient and beautiful snowshoeing or hiking trail on the way to Pemberton. Pemberton is a cute farming town in a wonderful glacial valley. Past Pemberton you drive along the huge Lillooet Lake before ascending quickly into the mountains to the Joffre trailhead. A very nice drive from Whistler any time of the year.
Nairn Falls, located just 20 minutes north of Whistler Village is a nice, relaxing hiking/snowshoeing trail to a nicely constructed viewing area in the midst of Nairn Falls. The popular trail is actually hike-able year-round, so you most likely will not need your snowshoes unless there has been lots of snow just before you go. The nice trail runs along Green River for 1.2k. The trail is well marked and doesn't gain any significant elevation, making it a very easy, kid friendly trail. The viewing area is located within a bend in the falls/river and the churning waters rushes around where you stand, far below. The water crashes through deep cuts in the rock and rushes into deep, green pools. There is a wonderful sign depicting how the area was formed over thousands of years. A short side trail from the main viewing area takes you over to an abrupt edge, where you can look down on the Green River below. Railings have been constructed as a precaution to prevent people falling off the cliffs. Nairn Falls is one of several amazing waterfalls in the Whistler area that can be seen year-round. Other waterfalls in the area include, Rainbow Falls near Whistler Village, Alexander Falls and Brandywine Falls, both about 30-40 minutes south of Whistler.
Why should you snowshoe/hike to Nairn Falls?
Nairn Falls is a relaxing and constantly interesting and beautiful hike. Very kid friendly and makes for a nice escape from Whistler. Close to Pemberton, a great little town that lays in a beautiful glacial valley just a ten minute drive past Nairn Falls.
The extraordinary Parkhurst Ghost Town can be reached by snowshoeing the wonderful new section of the Sea to Sky Trail that runs along the far side of Green Lake. The trail starts at both ends of Green Lake. One end is near Whistler Village close to Lost Lake and the other is north of Green Lake at the turnoff to Wedgemount Lake from the Sea to Sky Highway. In the winter the Lost Lake area has a entry fee and the Sea to Sky Trail can only be accessed from that end by going through Lost Lake. The far end of the Green Lake section of the Sea to Sky Trail is free to enter and closer to Parkhurst Ghost Town. It is easy to find. Just north of Whistler, past Green Lake you will see the Wedgemount Lake sign on the highway. Turn right and park where you can. Just across the bridge over Green River you will see a Sea to Sky Trail sign. The trail goes both left and right here. Following the Sea to Sky Trail to the right takes you to Parkhurst. Keep your eyes out for the obvious Sea to Sky Trail signs and it would be a good idea to print out the map above as the trail that leads to Parkhurst from the Sea to Sky Trail is unmarked. It is however, quite well worn and if you are looking for it, you should spot it easily. Keep in mind that snowshoeing is slower than hiking so expect to reach the Parkhurst turnoff at about 2.7k in about an hour from where you started. The town was once a thriving logging community, but when logging stopped here in the 1950's so did life in the town. As recently as a decade ago there were several old houses still standing, however, heavy snow and the wet climate have flattened almost all of them now. Still, it is a wonderful glimpse of the past and remarkably untouched.
Why should you snowshoe to Parkhurst Ghost Town?
The snowshoeing route to Parkhurst takes you up to some great views over Green Lake. The trail is challenging, but not overly difficult and the 7 kilometre roundtrip can usually be done in 3.5 hours. Parkhurst itself is located in quite an amazing setting on Green Lake. Part of the ghost town is high up on a ridge above Green Lake, and another part of the town edges on Green Lake itself. If you get a taxi to the trailhead (less than $20), you can snowshoe back to Whistler Village via the amazing Sea to Sky trail (8 kilometres/5 miles) in about 3-4 hours.